PAUL O’GRADY describes himself as “good twin, bad twin”. One side compassionate and caring, the other ready to spit vitriol at anyone who gets on his nerves.
Angry tirades about the coalition government, the Church, Jimmy Savile, the demise of the health service and his dislike of reality TV seem totally at odds with his roles as doting grandfather, animal lover and carer of the infirm.
Meeting him to talk about the latest volume of his memoirs, he is instantly likeable – funny, forthright and sharp as a knife. But often it’s his anger that fuels his rapier wit.
Still Standing charts the Lily Savage years to the present day, and Paul writes just as he speaks, with comedic barbs coursing through the pages.
His career has trodden an unusual path, from vitriolic drag queen to chat show host and presenter of animal programmes, although the acerbic wit is the common thread in all his pursuits.
“The good twin does nice things on the telly with kids and dogs, then the bad twin, who’s me or Lily on their high horse, kicks off,” he says of his split personality theory, “I’m capable of switching on a sixpence.”
He’s still as angry today as he was 30 years ago when Lily was batting away drunken hecklers with her vicious put-downs.
“There’s lots of things I won’t tolerate,” he says. “We don’t look after the elderly in this country and neither do we support carers. This government does nothing for the working man any more. If I went into politics there’d be a reign of terror. I’d put an instant 95% tax on polo mallets, polo ponies, polo shoes...”
Fittingly, he’s currently filming a documentary on the working classes for the BBC.
“The working class people of today are portrayed as chavs, the people who go on Jeremy Kyle,” he says. “So I’m going around to see if there’s still the old working class with the old values that I was brought up with. I’m finding there’s a bedrock in this country of decent, hard-working, nice people.”
Still Standing may be an autobiography, but the book omits one of the most traumatic events of Birkenhead-born Paul’s life, the death of his partner of 25 years, Brendan Murphy, in 2005.
“When I got to the end, I thought, ’I’ve dealt with so many deaths here, I can’t go through another one’. Basically, nearly everyone in the book is dead.”